Letting The Random Be Your Guide

Sometimes something as random as a knocked over Christmas tree can lead to a new career.

Sometimes something as random as a knocking over the Christmas tree can lead to a new career.

Imagine you’re an aspiring actor whose working as a mail room clerk to pay your bills. You’re hanging with your family at Christmas and you clumsily knock over the tree, breaking seventy-five years of ornaments. What do you do? After unsuccessfully trying to hunt down replacements, if you’re Christopher Radko, you find a glassblower, design new ornaments from memory, and revolutionize the Christmas ornament business.

Believe it or not, Christopher Radko’s story is not uncommon. Many people change the course of their lives based on a one-off experience or suggestion of a stranger. Take Victor Wong, a video game designer who had a midlife crisis in a hotel room. He found himself revived after sniffing the hotel toiletries. He was so inspired that he became a perfumier and launched the very popular animalistic-scented perfume, Beaver.

Then there’s Tommy Hilfiger, the clothing designer. After seeing the Who playing My Generation at Tanglewood in the 1960s, he was inspired to open a clothing store in New York. Richard Horowitz, a timpanist with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra became the maker of bespoke batons after Karl Böhm broke his baton. Mr. Horowitz crafted a new one in the Met’s boiler room and his second career was born.

A number of years ago, I was caravanning with a group of parents to pick up my son from summer camp in Pennsylvania. We stopped for lunch after the pickup and I found myself sitting with one of the dads who I’d never met before. He spent a bit of time talking about the food and the restaurant and his love of pizza, I found myself saying, “You should open a pizza place.” Years later I had learned that he had.

As we all know, it can sometimes be difficult to take our friends’ and loved ones’ suggestions but somehow a stranger’s ideas seem more palatable. A stranger is not invested in our choices, they don’t know what baggage we may be carrying, and they don’t have the concerns of our family members. They may see something in us that we are passionate about or good at and feel compelled to make a suggestion. I do it all the time. I was eating in a local restaurant last weekend and our server was fabulous. She told us she was a student at the local community college.

“What do you think you want to do?”
“Open an animal shelter.”
“Cool, are you taking any animal science classes?”
“No, just business classes; I don’t like blood.”
“You’re one of the best waitresses I’ve ever had. Have you considered hospitality?”
No. I don’t want to be a waitress forever.”
“What about having your own place or working for a corporation?”
“Hmm…That’s an interesting idea.”

People outside our situations can often see them better than us! I am just coming off a fabulous family reunion and I have my buddy, Joanne, to thank for it. A couple of months ago we were discussing our plans for the holidays and I told her that I was unsure of whether to travel to see family or not. She suggested spending Thanksgiving at the beach in New Jersey. My family hadn’t celebrated an off-season holiday at the beach since my Dad’s last Christmas nearly twenty years ago. So I floated the idea to my siblings and was shocked when they all agreed to come. It turned out to be a wonderful holiday, which included some of the kids taking post-Thanksgiving dips in the ocean!

It is not uncommon for me to make life-changing choices in this random manner. Three years ago my entire family vacationed together in Mexico. My sister taught a yoga class every day, while I did an art project. By the end of the week, she said to me, “You need to open a place and teach art.” I was like, “That’s crazy!” I found myself mulling it over for months and discussed it with my husband. He was naturally concerned about the amount of work it would be, the cost, and if I would be available to our kids. A year later, I ran the idea by a stranger who’d order a dog from the same breeder as I had. We were waiting at O’Hare for our puppies to arrive. She was a small business owner and told me to go for it. So I opened Doodle Art & Design and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.